Now that jet lag has subsided and I am in my right mind, please see my observations below. I hope you enjoy.
First, just a quick travel observation. We left Osaka, Japan yesterday, Thursday at about 4:30 PM. We landed, at 10:00 AM Thursday. So officially, we returned to the US six hours before we left! It is one of the International Date Line things that happen every time you cross the dateline.
Another Quick side bar. Our 8 year old nephew, William, knew we were traveling to Asia. His Dad explained to him where we were and how it was tomorrow there from the US. Since William and we were following the playoffs and it was a day ahead, William asked by text if we knew who won the Houston/NY game. Too funny!! Oh, to be 8 again. 😋
Impressions of Japan
Japan was a fascinating, strange, vaguely familiar place. Prior to this trip, we had only been to a few of Japan’s “cruise ports” for short day tours, mostly coastal sites of interest prior to this three week visit.
Now, my overarching observations. Japan is a big, first world country with all the benefits you would expect of a G7 world economic power.
Next, it is so clean, I could hardly believe it. And I mean everywhere!! Every street, every bus, cab, train, street car. Every restaurant, new, old, city, village. Every car, house, temple, office building, store. Every attraction, school, temple, shrine, park, tourist stop.
It is civilized. Everyone is polite. (well 99% but I do not want to be picky, unless you count fellow tourist/travelers. But that will be a future article.) Everything works and well! Hotel checkins were instant. Openings of anything, on time, every time. Same for closings. Taxis, buses, trains all on schedule EVERY time. It was almost uncanny. True fact: Japan’s train service last year, including their extensive high speed Bullet train, had an on time record within 36 seconds, yes I said seconds. Jaw dropping.
Bowing is a big thing. Mainly, three different bows. One for greeting (about 15 degrees), one for respect (about 30 degrees, as guests, we got a lot of those), and one for apologies (about 40-45 degrees). Bowing is so common, we found ourselves adding a small bow to every hello, goodbye or thank you.
Japan is not perfect. The first poke I’ll take is urban architecture. While there is an occasional superstar here and there, the country in general has the most boring, boxy, bunch of buildings I’ve seen anywhere. Yes, traditional housing and temples have their charm, but, they are squashed out by the endless boredom of concrete and glass office towers or apartment blocks with occasional attempts at some kind of architectural flare.
And now, (drumroll followed by the applause of my fellow travelers) FOOD. That one thing so many of us hit the road for! The sustenance of life and pleasure for the soul. It was general boring and mostly repetitive. This was somewhat a surprise for a country touting so many Michelin star restaurants. It was a big discovery to find the better restaurants cater to only to the wealthy and expense account crowd.
We made a few discoveries on our own but only a few. On the surprise front, on two different nights we ventured on our own for dinner, both nights the chef owners followed us outside afterwards and gave us full bows of thank you until we were out of sight. Humbling!!
Another surprise but over arching discovery we were not prepared for, was undercooked foods. Example: every egg, scrambled, fried or otherwise was half cooked or raw. I am not kidding. Same for bacon, sausage or even chicken, pork or beef. Bizarre!
You MUST eat rice! Every meal, every day, every day. We are not talking Uncle Ben’s here, or jasmine or basmati rice. We are talking full blown Japanese sticky short grain rice. And fish, sashimi (raw), sushi (also raw). At least one fish per each meal per day. The alternative was a life saving bowl of udon or ramen noodles served in a broth but often accompanied by vegetables and…some type of fish, shellfish and occasionally chicken or pork.
Personally, I love fish and sashimi/sushi are right up my alley but I must admit the rare pasta or pizza was devoured with delight.
On the highlight side. The countryside is very accessible everywhere and we were honored to be able to enjoy lots of it. The national parks and temples and shines and imperial palaces were amazing. The gardens are unlike any we have seen anywhere. In one park we saw gardeners plucking imperfect pine needles one by one and dropping them onto large tarps so as not to litter on the ground. Water features are an art form, stones and lanterns are messages, form and function are often the same. It was hard to come away from any such walk in a bad mood.
In ending, it must be said the people were amazing. Genuine, polite, helpful, forgiving, cheerful, focused. We met old folks still with a twinkle in the eye. Children, delightfully doing what children do, with glee in every action. Buddhist monks, going about their daily business, shepherding the poor and poor of spirit alike. Worker bees, working long hours and painful commutes in numbers that must be seen to be believed.
Japan is not perfect. It is still a male dominate society. Women are way behind on the equality front. This is slowly improving, so slowly. Tradition is paramount yet variety in all aspects of life seems to offer a crack in that armor. Time will tell.
Someday, I would like to see Japan again, in spring or in snow, maybe farther away from the urban centers. But for now, we’ve had enough and are pleased to be home and surrounded by all things familiar.